Need to fix system, not impeach CJI, says Justice Chelameswar

Justice Jasti Chelameswar of the Supreme Court said on Saturday that he hoped justice Ranjan Gogoi will not be overlooked for the post of chief justice of India (CJI) for taking part in an unprecedented press conference on January 12 where the four senior-most judges aired their differences with present CJI Dipak Misra over his handling of sensitive cases.

The second senior-most SC judge also said moves by some opposition parties to seek the impeachment of Misra were not a solution and called for debate on a restructuring of the country’s top court. He also ruled out seeking government employment after he retires on June 22.

“I am not an astrologer who can predict if Justice Gogoi will be ignored for the post of the next chief Justice of India. I hope this will not happen,” Chelameswar said at an event on ‘The role of Democracy’ organised by the Harvard Club of India in Delhi.

“But if it happens, it will prove that the problems that were pointed out in the January 12 press conference were correct.”

Chelameswar was responding to a question whether Justice Gogoi’s chances of being made the next CJI, after Misra retires in October, would be scuttled for being a part of the press conference that focused on lapses in the Supreme court’s functioning. Apart from justices Chelameswar and Gogoi, judges MB Lokur and Kurian Joseph raised several issues, including allocation of cases, by CJI Misra.

“There have been instances where case having far-reaching consequences for the Nation and the institution had been assigned by the Chief Justices of this Court selectively to the benches “of their preference” without any rationale basis for such assignment. This must be guarded against at all costs,” they wrote in an open letter to the CJI .

On Saturday, among the many sensitive topics that justice Chelameswar spoke about in an interview at the event with senior journalist Karan Thapar was the contentious issue of the power exercised by the CJI as the master of the roster .

He said the CJI undoubtedly had the power to constitute benches to hear different cases as the mater of the roster. “But this power has to be exercised for achieving some public good. It can’t be exercised just because it is there. All power is trust and it has to be done for some public good,” he said.

On the Prasad Education Trust case, justice Chelameswar said, “I am still struggling with the question that what was it that required the reversal of the orders passed by me . I did not pick up the case. It was brought before me. It was too serious a matter and the matter was required to be heard by a constitution bench as the allegation pertained to judges and the suspicion that judicial strings were being pulled by the accused.”

The Prasad Education Trust case surfaced last year when the Central Bureau of Investigation arrested a retired judge of the Orissa High Court and five others in a bribery case. And the case travelled to the Supreme court for an independent inquiry. The case was admitted by a bench headed by Justice Chelameswar and it passed an order to set up a constitution bench of five senior most judges of the Supreme Court to hear the petition that sought an

independent probe of the case.

CJI Misra set up a five -judge bench to hear the order passed by the justice Chelameswar bench. The five-judge bench annulled the order.

Speaking on the problem of cases being assigned to preferential benches by the CJI, Chelameswar cited the case of disproportionate assets amassed by late former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa. “What happened? The case was assigned as per roster. The judgment was reserved for almost a year. What purpose was served?”

Justice Chelameswar confirmed that the Jayalalithaa case was among the many cases that had caused the four senior-most judges “anguish” that led them to hold the January press conference.

“The question is what is the basis on which such sensitive cases are allocated. Is a system being followed, would this kind of allocation be good for the institution when such allocation is undermining the system,” he asked.

On the recent move by some political parties to remove the CJI by introducing an impeachment motion against him, Chelameswar said it would not solve the problems of the judiciary. “I do not know why the nation is obsessed with impeachment,” he said. “Impeachment can’t be an answer to everything. There have to be other mechanisms in place to deal with such problems.”

Justice Chelameswar also made it clear that after his retirement on June 22, he would not seek any employment from the government. “I am saying it on record that after my retirement, I will not seek any appointment from the government”.

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